Pioneer Spotlight: Amy Spohn

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Pioneer Spotlight
Amy Spohn
July 25, 2014

For Amy Spohn, risk management officer, her interest in a career in safety was sparked while she was training to become a firefighter. She earned a bachelor’s degree in art at UW-Madison and a master’s degree in occupational and environmental safety and health at UW-Whitewater. While in Madison, she attended the fire academy and EMT training at Madison Area Technical College. That training led her to a career in risk management, which includes safety, emergency planning and hazardous waste, among others.

Spohn, a Platteville, Wis., native, has been working on campus for more than five years. She started her career as a safety specialist for Kolbe and Kolbe Millwork in Wausau, Wis.

Can you tell me about the responsibilities of your position?

This position encompasses risk management, which includes liability and property claims, contract review and various liability issues and concerns. This position is also responsible for safety, such as ensuring federal and state requirements are met throughout the university. I also oversee environmental safety, and I assist Scott (Marquardt, UW-Platteville chief of police) with emergency planning.

What drew you into this field?

When I was in the fire academy I became intrigued with the safety field. After graduating from UW-Madison and with certifications from MATC, I decided to enroll in the master’s program in Occupational Environmental Safety and Health at UW-Whitewater. At the time, my goal was to become a career firefighter. However, my favorite professor and my mentor was also the safety and risk manager of UW-Whitewater and the stories he shared about his job intrigued me with the various topics and the fast paced aspect of the job. I thought working in the university setting doing this type of job would be my dream and I still get to do fire safety. I feel lucky.

Is there a certain aspect of the job that you enjoy the most?

Having the opportunity to work with so many people and departments across campus. I learn something every day, which is wonderful. This position requires me to think outside the box and be a problem solver. It has also been great collaborating with various city agencies with our emergency planning. I think the university has a stronger tie to the city and we are able to assist each other more.

Is there an overall sense of campus safety? Is that something you look at in general terms?

I would say yes. This position requires me to focus on safety in general terms, however, in order to view it that way, it has to be broken down. We set goals and initiatives for the safety department and campus to achieve, depending on current topics or activities that are occurring. Campus overall has been receptive to any safety or risk management changes that have been implemented.

What has it been like for you during the last few weeks since the tornado hit?

Crazy. I have dual roles serving as safety officer for the emergency operations center (EOC) and as the university’s risk manager. As safety officer that requires ensuring the scene is safe, people are wearing proper personal protective equipment while they are in the destruction zones, and that there are no immediate health or safety threats, etc. As risk manager, that requires overseeing the insurance aspect, working as a team with facilities, contractors and the insurance adjuster. The interesting aspect of this dual role is being called to respond to the scene on campus minutes after the tornado, seeing the initial destruction and now being able to see the rebuild and the insurance claim to the end.

What did you think about the emergency response to the tornado from those on campus?

It was effective. There were no serious injuries on campus, which is always the number one concern. We have done a number of emergency tabletops within the university over the years and we ironically were a part of a city-wide tabletop a month before the tornado that was a tornado scenario. The various tabletops the university has done have allowed us to be able to adapt to various scenarios. After any event or tabletop we meet to discuss “lessons learned” and what went well and areas we can improve on. This is huge for being prepared. We have a strong dedicated EOC team. When we are called in the middle of the night to report to any emergency (such as the night of June 16) we know we can depend on each other to support decisions being made and are able to look at not only the big picture of the emergency, but all the other finer details that need to be addressed as well. It makes me proud to be a part of this group.

Interview conducted by: Dan Wackershauser, University Information and Communications.
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